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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Arthur Smith

Born in Cuba and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Arthur Smith at an early age, began to show his artistry, talents that would lead him to become a master of modern jewelry design.

Arthur received a scholarship to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and was among a handful of Black students attending the college. His advisors tried to steer him toward architecture, suggesting he would be able to find a job in the civil sector. However, Arthur eventually majored in sculpture which proved to be invaluable training for his eventual profession in jewelry design. Upon graduating in 1940, he began working with local youth organizations and at night, he took a jewelry-making class at New York University. Those classes and a friendship/mentorship with jewelry designer Winifred Mason would help guide his artistic career.

Model Wearing Art Smith’s “Modern Cuff” Bracelet, circa 1948, Photo Peter Basch

Arthur eventually became Mason’s full time assistant in her jewelry studio. In 1946 he opened his own studio in the village, but moving to an “Italian block” became an issue, making him feel dangerously unwanted. Not long after, he would move to West Fourth Street, closer to Washington Square Park where he felt more at home. The new location was also a great business move, and his career began to flourish.

Arthur Smith jewelry sketches

Arthur sold his jewelry in craft stores in some major cities and by the 1950s, he established business relationships with larger department stores like Bloomingdales and Milton Heffing in New York City as well as other exclusive boutiques around the country.